Nearly three years after the formation of a partnership designed with the sole purpose of winning multiple NBA championships, the Miami Heat's 'Big Three' - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - are on the cusp of a second Finals letdown.
The All Star trio have been unable to prevent Miami falling 3-2 behind to the San Antonio Spurs in the best-of-seven championship series with the next two games scheduled for South Florida on Tuesday and Thursday.
"I have to come up big, for sure, in Game Six," James, who is the cornerstone of the Heat's success, told reporters after Miami's 114-104 loss on Sunday. "But I believe we all have to play at a high level in order to keep the series going."
The trio reached the NBA Finals in their first season together but were upset by the Dallas Mavericks. The following year they dispatched the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
After a sluggish start to the 2013 NBA Finals, they finally found their groove in a Game Four victory last week but were unable to carry that momentum into the fifth game of the series.
"We kept fighting, we kept feeling like we had a chance," Wade said after Sunday's game, which Miami never led despite getting close on several occasions.
"This was a game that it was like we could steal it. But they continued to make shots. Credit to them."
Capping what has been their best season together with a second championship could mark the beginnings of a dynasty, but a loss could put an ugly stain on their legacy.
After all, Miami opened the 2012-13 campaign as overwhelming favorites and enjoyed a franchise-record 66-win regular season which included a stunning 27-game winning streak that was the second longest in NBA history.
The series now shifts to Miami where the Heat will have to do something they have been unable to do in nearly a month - win consecutive games. Miami have alternated wins and losses over their last 12 playoff games.
"We're looking forward to going home, and that's all the talk we had in the locker room is, can we put together our best game for Game Six?" said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team went 37-4 at home in the regular season and 8-3 in the playoffs. "Guys are looking forward to playing in front of our fans."
Few expected the Heat to be pushed to the brink, especially against a Spurs team that were considered by many too old to contend for a title when the season began.
But San Antonio, in the Finals for the first time since winning a fourth championship in 2007, has been getting age-defying performances from its veterans while younger players like Danny Green, Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard are causing the Heat headaches.
"Me being one of the leaders of this team, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game Seven, and I look forward to the challenge," said James.
"But our next challenge, biggest challenge, will be Tuesday night. We have an opportunity on our home floor with our home fans to keep the series going, and we look forward to it."
How do you expect the Breakers to perform in this season's Australian NBL?Related story: (See story)